The heartache was still fresh when Fred H. Cartwright emailed us.
“Our little slice of heaven is going away, tree by tree.”
If you wanted to teach a class about environmental racism, and learn about the importance of trees simultaneously, the deforestation of 100-plus acres of city-owned land for a golf course in Cobbs Creek would give you ample curricular material.
Trees cool and clean the air, something you want in a city suffering from the heat island effect and poor air quality. Trees are critical to stormwater management, something you want in a city that has neighborhoods plagued with flooding. Trees reduce stress and can actually lower your blood pressure, something you want in a city that seems designed to destroy your mental health.
The 100 acres of forested land was an asset to the community—a beautiful, biodiverse green space for all to experience.
Cobbs Creek, the Philadelphia neighborhood that benefited the most directly from the air cleaning, the cooling, and the beautification the trees provided, is predominantly Black. A neighborhood at risk from additional flooding due to the removal of the trees is Eastwick, which is also predominantly Black.
But now the trees are gone, and nothing can bring them back.
Even if Parks & Recreation commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell resigns, which she should immediately. Even if Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr.’s campaign is fully investigated for suspiciously-timed donations, one of which was obviously illegal. Even if the 501(c)(3) status for the Cobbs Creek Foundation is rescinded for this illegal contribution. Nothing will bring back the beauty of the felled 100-year-old trees and the refuge they provided for both people and wildlife.
The architect of this project is a West Conshohocken-based nonprofit, which has three members of the billionaire Maguire family on the board. It receives money from the Maguire Foundation, which—you guessed it—is also run by the same Maguire family. Conveniently, both organizations are headquartered in the same office.
We can’t be surprised when people with wealth and power wield it, but we can be disappointed when our politicians fail us so completely.
This is a grotesque chapter in the Kenney administration.
Parks & Rec, run by Ott Lovell, did nothing to protect the trees. She bowed to the foundation’s wish to denude the forest, and her department then had the audacity to issue PR statements claiming that the forest was nothing more than invasive species. This has been refuted by everyone we’ve spoken with who spent time there, including a former member of the Kenney administration. No documentation backing up Parks & Rec’s claim has been presented.
Over the course of three years, the Cobbs Creek Foundation claims to have met over 100 community members, a meager number, but they offer no specifics about their outreach. Grid journalist Bernard Brown attended one of the meetings, but nothing was mentioned about clearcutting the forest. The community most affected by the actions sanctioned by the City had the least input, another hallmark of environmental racism.
This month we are launching our 2030 Series: The Past, Present and Future of Sustainability. Every month we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at one particular facet of sustainability: energy, land use, the circular economy, food, etc. While we will be focusing on one topic a month, our ultimate goal is to help shape the conversation for the next mayoral race.
Philadelphia deserves an administration that puts its residents first and takes their environment, environmental justice and access to public space seriously. We’ve got no time to lose.